Wednesday, 6 April 2011

A Very Good Chance That:

Several interesting things are happening in Mephoria at the moment. What with the random Frog Combustion up in the Hyellia Lowlands, the mass Elven bread fight in the Ciphia Swamps, and the fact that Ian The Sharp-Eyed tripped over a rake and fell into a ravine on Tuesday, Mephoria has been a busy place. Its denizens have lots to consider, it seems.

Primarily, where exactly their loyalties lie. Mephoria has a plethora of Gods, and an even larger plethora of people wearing sheets and claiming to be Gods. But it is the creation of those Gods that has always been of interest to the people who end up killing the sheep that go on the sacrificial altar.

Lots of people believe in positive and negative energy. The idea goes that if you believe something will happen, it will, because you believed in it. It’s usually a good idea to make sure your belief is strong enough to make it happen before testing it out, though. It’s no good believing there is a large pile of mattresses at the bottom of the mountain you just fell off if you can’t even conjure up enough faith to make a spoon grow a beard if you run backwards around the dinner table three times.

These things are truer than many of the inhabitants like to believe. The thing is, if enough people start to believe something, it becomes true. The universe begins to think it is the odd one out for not knowing that a pig coated in toffee can run through fire without being harmed on a Thursday and so rearranges the laws it knows in order to make this new and strange belief real. It works the other way around too, which is why when people stopped believing in Thron the Invulnerable, he died last Wednesday when a cow looked at him severely.

The problem is, the universe has had enough, and has spoken through its conduit, the Temple of Thranaira. In the ancient structure the universe is given a voice, and it tells its disciples, The Bearers of The Way, what it is currently thinking. And the universe has spoken. Change is afoot.

What the universe has a problem with is the fact that whilst a certain amount of people have to believe in the powers of a person before they become real and a new God is created, it is by no means a majority of all the people who will then become affected by the jurisdiction of this new God. For example, only thirty per cent of the people in the village of Uck actually believed that salmon have an immense understanding of manners coupled with a thirst for revenge, yet suddenly all of the villagers found themselves having to tip their hat to the river as they crossed Uck bridge, or they find themselves slapped half to death by pink, watery ninjas.

The universe has proposed a change. It thinks that creating Gods all over the place is fine, but the system should be fairer. No more minority Gods, the universe has ruled. If someone wants to be a God, then most of the population of the area their influence would grow to affect must also agree. Not everyone needs to, of course, for there is always one person who, upon stumbling into paradise will find the most uncomfortable patch of ground to sit on and complain that the Angels are too nice and the clouds too fluffy.

The universe is presenting the people of Mephoria with a new way of choosing their deities. They must get together as villages, towns, cities or even nations and decide if Barry the Soothsayer really has enough Sooth worth hearing. If most of them agree, the universe will grant him the power to become Barry; Creator Of Sooth. If not, then he won’t. Simple.

Mephoria is heading for a new age of fairness and prosperity, one in which its Gods are fairly elected. Should they choose the new deity selection system, people will no longer have to suffer nipping out for cheese and coming back to find their chickens have been anointed.

There are of course those who oppose, and claim the system is flawed. Which way Mephoria will go remains to be seen…

Monday, 4 April 2011

Get That Brick Off My Head

Bander Tirrion may be rethinking the plans to expand his latest architectural masterpiece following recent events that have left him more than a little red-faced. Anyone who lives in his iconic Tower Complex will certainly be looking to get their money back, and may have already taken more pointy methods of getting even.

The Tower Complex is a network of large, vertical homes, built into Towers. Where the genius, and appeal, for the wealthy and slightly black-hearted that choose these towers as their homes is from Bander Tirrion’s unique method of building, a method that reduces costs. Bander had started to think in recent years that whilst bricks are all right, especially for weighing things down, or hitting people with, they’re actually quite expensive. This has something to do with the fact that Bander operates within a small cluster of Kingdoms known as the Withering Sands, in a place where stone is about as abundant as a giggling blue Llama. Very rare, then, especially now that the giggling blue Llamas have all moved up North.

So bricks have to be outsourced, and most people tend to think that lugging a thousand bricks eight hundred miles is too much of a favour to ask, and as such, Bander Tirrion has found himself in the annoying position of having to buy in bricks. It was whilst pondering this problem that the solution hit him like, well, a brick.

Poor people are quite sturdy, Bander realised. After all, winter is quite harsh, what with the annual appearance of the Slap In The Face Every Tuesday Ghost, an event that the poor seem to take in their strides. Include the rise in recent Hay prices, forcing many families to sell their horses, or at least downgrade, and the fact that over fifty per cent of the region’s main food source – pineapples – has run away, and it could definitely be said that the people who endure such problems are indeed very strong and sturdy.

Bricks are also strong and sturdy, which is probably one of the (major) reasons why they are often chosen over jelly when it comes to making things that need to be resilient and last a long time. If bricks are sturdy, and peasants are sturdy – why not just build things out of peasants?

The pros of the situation were abundant. Peasants don’t need to be made to order (although that was another project Bander considered, involving many hooks and pulley systems and a how-to guide involving cartoon rabbits) and can transport themselves to the dig site. Plus, peasants are much cheaper. All Bander needed to do was lure in enough peasants with the promise of great wealth, and several weeks later, when they finally realised that the building they were holding up was a very permanent structure, they couldn’t do anything about it, and Bander would never have paid them any of the promised money.

The top of the towers still needed to be made of bricks; no self-respecting nobleman or woman would want to live in a tower built of people. No wants to scratch their chin and ask aloud to themselves ‘What shall I have for breakfast?’ and have the walls answer ‘Bacon and eggs.’ So the peasants would be used only as foundations.

The plan was successful, and dozens of towers were erected. On their own, a tower was simply a tower, so Bander made them in close proximity – a field of towers for the rich. For a couple of decades, the plan was perfect. The peasants at the bottom grumbled, complained, and sometimes whined, but no one paid any attention. ‘Out of sight, out of mind’ was the mantra the nobles adopted, and they found that occasionally brushing some grated cheese out of the window kept the foundations quiet.

But recently, Lord Ebrick’s foundations decided that this sort of thing wasn’t on. Someone consulted a passing lawyer, who read many long books and talked to many people (including one very wise owl he met whilst camping one summer) and came back with the conclusion that, no, it’s not ok to build a giant stone tower on the back of people. With or without their permission.

And with that, the peasants at the base of Lord Ebrick’s tower took action. Angry at having been manipulated and tricked, they rose up. Quite literally in fact. With much grunting and struggling, as one single organism those unfortunate people upon whom Lord Ebrick’s tower had been built, stood up. Lord Ebrick noticed something was amiss when he was in the bath and the water started moving to one end of the tub.

With much pushing and shoving, the peasants lifted the tower from their shoulders and let it topple to one side. Lord Ebrick was certainly surprised. So were his neighbours. Not just because their friend’s tower was falling, because it was falling towards them. When the foundations of the towers next to Lord Ebrick’s saw what was happening ,they realised that they did not have to put up with having a building on their heads either.

And so it was that the people of the Withering Sands, who for too long had had to rest bricks on their heads and listen through the floor to posh dinner parties and hope that none of the guests suggested a jumping up and down competition, rose up. One by one, all across the field of buildings, Towers began to topple. Brick structures fell to one side, smashing into their neighbours. Soon, half of the field was a pile of bricks, peasants jumping and cheering amidst a cloud of mortar dust, ghostly revellers hugging and clapping.

But it’s not over. There are many more towers left, and their inhabitants are starting to wonder if they should have treated their foundations a little better. Suddenly, a handful of grated cheese every half a week isn’t seeming to be enough. Now there’s bread, ham, and in some extreme cases where the peasants have given an experimental wobble just to test their owners, a pickled egg twice a month on a Sunday.

Fear is ripe in the air, as the nobles look to one another and try to work out who will be next. Will it be them?

Of course it’s not all good news for the peasants. Thanks to them, there are a lot of bricks lying around. The Withering Sands is in a right mess, and who do you think is going to have to clean that up?

Monday, 7 March 2011


Ask anyone who owns one, and they will tell you that horses run on hay. Even that wizard who tried to make his survive on old soap and odd socks. Horses have to eat hay, and without hay, they don’t do much and eventually lie down in a very permanent sort of way.

This means that because such a large proportion of the nobles and tradesmen on the Crescent Continent require horses, for pulling carts, taking them places they need to go, or dressing up in ruffs and having pictures painted on top of, the people who make the hay can charge whatever they like. The people who make the hay are the farmers in the Phelta Plains, a huge expanse of lowlands and plains in the centre of the Crescent Continent. Almost all of the continent’s food and hay supplies come from here, and now there is a problem.

In the capital city of Skyth, some people have been saying for a long time that the city should have its own supply of hay, to regulate and control itself. These are usually people who have a lot of money, yet regret having to spend it all on someone else’s goods. They are the kind of people who could buy and elephant and still manage to make a profit, or have a castle built and at the end the builder will write them a cheque. Suddenly, these people have been proved right by some very unfortunate incidents.

The problem with the Phelta plains is that being in the middle of the Crescent Continent, technically no one owns it. Seven kingdoms find it lying within their borders, but ancient laws set down by ancient kings decree that no kingdom or man may ever own the Phelta Plains. A lot of people seem to think that now that marrying sheep is banned, some of the other old customs should be looked at as well. But mostly the people know that a war over hay is something that would not end well, or quickly.

What is currently happening in Phelta is not a war over the plains, but another general, miscellaneous war about something else. The problem is when the field he’s meant to be harvesting is full of armoured people trying to smack each other in the kidneys, giving a farmer a wheelbarrow and scythe and saying ‘off you go’ tends to produce a response with only two fingers. No one wants to be shuffling through the melee just to get some hay; ‘Excuse me… sorry, excuse me, I always hate it when people turn up late… is that your arm there, sir? Excuse me.’

Which means hay reserves are running low. Naturally, this has caused the price of hay to rise. The hay dealers have realised they can make a lot of money, and also that if the crisis in Phelta isn’t resolved soon, there won’t be any hay to make money off. Naturally, it was the dealers with eye patches, cigars, big dogs and other such signs of unscrupulous behaviour that thought up a price hike first.

The poor, of course, are being hit hardest. The rich can afford to reach into their silk lined pockets, bring out a polar bear-fur purse and throw another few gold coins at the servant who comes in with the bill. If the peasants dig any deeper into their pockets they are in danger of having their hands bitten by the mice that live there. It’s getting to the point where those peasant or trader families who have two horses are having to get rid of one, trading in their fast, flashy racing horse for one with an extra long back that they can all fit on. Many have given up using the horse at all, and thousands more people across the continent have started using the dragon transportation system to get in to work every morning.

The people of the Crescent Continent have two options. First, try and invest a lot of time and resources into getting horses to work just as well on a diet of fresh grass and other green foods. The second, and more likely as it requires a lot less effort and a lot more moaning, is to sit and wait it out. Wars can’t last forever, and as soon as the problems in and around Phelta end, it will be safe for the hay convoys to begin leaving the region again, and everyone’s problems will be solved. Everyone is confident – one of the armies is clearly on top. They went in strong, drove back all resistance and have only got to find the enemy general and things will be over for good. It’ll all happen very soon…

Friday, 3 December 2010

Money, Money... Parrots?

Some bright spark in Mephoria long ago had the idea that perhaps the coin system was getting unwieldy, and that perhaps money could be almost made into a symbol, and instead of real money existing, people could trade in hypothetical money instead. Of course, this was not much of a change for the peasants, who dealt in none existent money all the time, hence the phrase, ‘Worth his weight in manure.’

For some reason, the idea of hypothetical money caught on. The idea was simple. Taking a wheelbarrow full of coins all the way to the market (which even the laziest of muggers and the most inept of bandits would be a fool not to pounce upon) to buy a new horse, or a crossbow, or an inflatable giraffe had always been a big nuisance. Why not simply take along a small trained parrot who sat on your shoulder and told the person you were trading with the amount of money you had. The trader’s parrot would add the value of the goods you had just bought onto the trader’s total funds, and your parrot would subtract that same amount.

Suddenly, the monetary system became a lot easier, although the first round of easily controlled Credit Parrots (who were too easily persuaded to change the total by several hundred at the most meagre flash of a cuttlefish bone) resulted in everyone becoming temporarily a lot better off until the new breed of Ironmind Parrots arrived from the Spiderfern Forests just below the Sparko Isles. The authorities reckoned that, since everyone was dealing in hypothetical money anyway, it did not really matter that everyone had generated some extra cash, and so they chose to do nothing about it.

There were several setbacks before they even reached this point, however. The most obvious one being, how was it decided how much money everyone had? Whilst the idea of starting every person on equal footing was applauded by many (mostly those who worshipped parsnips and sang songs about the holy plough) it had many dissenters too (mostly those with gold teeth, gold cutlery and, in several cases, gold wives), it was generally seen as too damn fair. The other problem that needed to be solved was what to do with all the coinage that would be left lying around. What was there to stop people spending that, on top of what the Credit Parrots said they had? Luckily one solution turned out to solve both problems. The idea was that every person had to buy a Credit Parrot, and the cost of that parrot would be different for each person; the cost would be exactly the same sum as the total money the purchaser had in their possession, a total which was then recorded on to the parrot to begin with.

For a while, everything went swimmingly, until certain opportunities arose. Some people tried covering small children in glue and feathers, taking them to the market and paying them in chocolate to pretend to be a parrot worth several million. It took several sharp eyed stall-traders before this scheme was eventually discovered, and the law came in to place that it was a shop keepers right to refuse to sell to anyone whose parrot could not hang upside down from the ceiling of a wire cage with its feet for more than a minute. Whilst this did somewhat lead to the current queuing problem, it has also meant a vast decrease in the amount of fraud.

The problem was, with all money becoming hypothetical, there was nothing to stop people spending into the minus. Considering there was nothing physical to lose, and it was not as if there were coins to be owed, it became generally acceptable to ‘Buy on the Parrot’, and purchase goods without having the required amount of hypothetical funds. It started, much as it always does, with people using this function of their parrot when they try to buy something worth 30 gold, and only have twenty nine. But when someone realised that no one was trying to stop them buying something worth 30 gold when all they had on them was an empty parrot, half a lemon and a bit of a headache, things went haywire.

People spent and spent and spent, not realising that at some point, someone would want their money back, hypothetical or not. There came a breaking point, known as the day of Red Parrots, where people’s parrots actually started dying from the sheer stress of trying not only to keep track of but also to comprehend exactly how much negative money they were responsible for. People whose parrots died found themselves without any money at all, and without even the ability to buy on the Parrot. These people became Parrotrupt, and it spread like a disease. (Zoologists across the land of Mephoria are still struggling to decide whether the situation really was down to the vast philosophical weight of the problem, or simply that they had picked a breed of parrots that, whilst very good at memorising things, were not good at maths, became easily stressed when pressured, and had weak hearts.)

After Red Parrot day, the land of Mephoria almost ground to a halt. Like a manure trader who forgets to put a peg on his nose, the people of Mephoria began to realise exactly why the old money system had worked so well, and why they had felt foreboding about the new system when it was first introduced.

Some people found it harder than others, and some people found their lives destroyed by Red Parrot Day. The poor did not really notice – it’s hard for people with no money to notice a difference. The rich never cared when the poor had no money, why should there suddenly be a panic when it was the other way around? But perhaps it was justified. Entire kingdoms went parrotrupt as their funds died overnight. Kings and Queens across the land woke up to find that they no longer had enough money to buy a thousand racehorses a day (or even enough money to buy a couple of hamsters every fortnight).

That was several years ago in Mephoria, but the effects are still carrying on. Those who had had so much hypothetical money that they had leant it to someone else panicked, and when their parrot looked like it was becoming sick, they brought a new one and demanded that those who borrowed their hypothetical money return it, and so those people found themselves with no money. The money leant could not be paid back quick enough, and the result was that payer and the payee lost everything. It was a grim time in Mephoria. Even the Rubber-Nose Moose ceased to make people laugh.

The end result is that now, everyone is poor. Kingdoms across Mephoria are recovering, but this in itself has created a problem. Soon it will be time to tell the story of the twin kingdoms of Irriphos and Betannaline...

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Don Your Cap

As the Frozen Moose of the ice-swept Lost Mountains will tell anyone who gets close enough to listen (and has learned to speak Moose), sometimes Mephoria can seem like a place where things very rarely happen. Days drag by with little or no event, and trying to count the icicles that have formed on your antlers overnight is a game that quickly wears thin. What the Moose are in the wrong position, situation and species to see, is that great tides are sweeping across Mephoria. Politics and Religion are vast mountains of declaratives and presumption, and slow and unchanging as they may often seem, even a mountain range can move. Something monumental has happened this week in Mephoria, and it’s all to do with hats.

Up at the very top of the Crescent Continent, the lapping waves often bring boiling lava onto the shores. It is a volcanic region, separated from the mainland by water, with only a thin bridge of black rock adjoining the Sparko Islands to the land. It is a harsh and unforgiving environment (that still remembers all those who peed in the sea) and so it should come of no surprise that people live there. If there’s one thing humanity seems to love on occasion, it’s giving itself a hard time.

So here, where hot rocks occasionally fall from the sky, lives a group of humans as advanced and sophisticated as the inhabitants of the Pherron Realms, if not slightly singed in places. Theirs is a culture based on strength and honour – they wear no armour into battle, they continue their day to day lives even in the most extreme temperatures, and no sea full of boiling lava will ever cause one of their fisherman to keep his boat and his person on dry land.

These people are the Agura, and they are a strong tribe. Mostly through natural selection, although they prefer to call it The Way. Many of their proverbs begin ‘The Way permitting’ and it is as much a god to them as, well, the gods. (Who might object to this, but a half-donkey half-scorpion hybrid in the Hallango Plains is currently causing them a lot of amusement. The next time one of them goes to refill the crisp bowls, the rest of the world might get a look in.)

Because of this honour code, the Agura do not wear hats. Protective hats, to be more specific, which in a region where you are more likely to find a falling rock than a falling leaf can be a bit of a hazard. Many of their best, and worst, have survived the harshest of environments, the toughest physical and mental challenges, only to half a kilogramme of quartz cave their skull in as they enjoy a victory pint down the local tavern.

Incidentally, even their alcohol comes with its own threat. A live Lemon Crab is placed in each glass to sweeten the flavour. At some point along the journey of being caught, submerged in a very bubbly liquid and constantly transferred from being vertical to horizontal, the crab usually becomes rather irritated. As a result, Agura beer is not to everyone’s taste. Just because someone asks for a cold beer does not necessarily mean they wanted it to be nippy.

So it is than many Agurans have been killed by a little bit of rock when a small tin hat would have saved them, although for the next couple of days they may have wished it hadn’t. It is not illegal to wear a protective hat in any part of the Aguran lands (and is in fact actively encouraged in the swimming pools) but to do so would be to break an unwritten law, flout a matter of morality rather than law. It is something that is not done, in the same way young boys are told off for crying whereas a young girl would be left to it. No matter how dangerous it gets, even if going outside without a hat on is pure suicide, an Aguran, a true, believing Aguran will never put on a hat.

Which is a shame, as they’re relatively inexpensive and worth a lot more than dying with a head full of rock. There are so many unpleasant things that happen to people who do not wear hats, and for the little extra effort of putting one on, a lot of things could be different. But the Agurans have been bound by their honour code for a long time now, and most people had given up hope of that ever changing.

But perhaps, just perhaps, it is…

The Overlord, Majest Orro, is feeling rather threatened in his position as ruler of Agura, and wants to make sure his military is at full strength. Considering that his soldiers spend the bulk of their time standing out in the open in formation, it is no surprise that approximately ten percent of his forces are killed each year by the falling rocks that the offshore volcanoes spit into the air.

Because he fears for his safety, and thus wishes his forces to be at full strength, he has decreed that sometimes, just sometimes, perhaps it is in fact acceptable for a man to wear a hat when he goes into potentially dangerous terrain. This is a small act of concession from the ruler, but could have massive complications, as it throws the Aguran Honour Code into disarray. Miners, for example, may wonder why they are not allowed the protection awarded by a hat, but a soldier is, even though in a mine the danger of rocks overhead is ever-present. (Apart from those open air mines, but most are of the view that if it couldn’t kill a canary, it’s not a mine.)

This move may mean that Majest Orro has an extra eight hundred men to guard his palace should an uprising occur, but it also makes that uprising more likely. Similarly to going to a AA meeting with a box of liqueur chocolates, those extra men might be that final straw. Those who see him bracing for an attack may believe there to be one, and thus go about pledging their allegiance. The act of one noble openly saying he and his men will fight for Majest Orro should a coup be launched (much to the chagrin of many chickens) may not seem like a bad move, it will in fact then point the finger at all the other noble families. Very soon, it will be clear whose allegiance lies where, and if Majest Orro does not hold the majority then there may be trouble. Seeing just how much of an advantage they would have may be the last thing the dissenters need to cause them to take up arms.

It is this simple act of agreeing that sometimes hats can be worn without breaking the rules that could lose Majest Orro a lot of followers. Those who do not see him as a living interpretation of the Honour Code may begin to think that he is bending under pressure, and changing the rules because of outside demands, not because it is in the best interest of the Code.

And of course, saying that soldiers may now wear hats is all well and good, but without them having worn them for so long, it is likely to take everyone a long time to learn how to put them on.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Getting Closer To Nature, Then Calling A Doctor.

The people of The Crescent Continent have always had a lot of things to deal with as of late. Not only is the Tyrant Jaspiel making life for those who live on the Waning Shores rather difficult (‘An execution a day keeps overpopulation away’), but there are also rumours of a Crimson Elf invasion from their home on the Volco Isles. Add on to this the fact that goats are mysteriously dying out, and most of the wheat planted before July has run away, and one could be forgiven for thinking that the people of the Crescent Continent have had enough of hardship for a generation or two.

Apparently not, it seems. There is one thing that even a tyrant cannot restrict, that even Crimson Elf domination could not confiscate from the populace, and that is the vast array of diseases and ailments to choose from. And it seems that the people of the CC really love their choice when it comes to how to be ill. As if the vast array of illness available to mankind were not enough, the people of the Crescent Continent have started to borrow ailments from the animal kingdom as well.
This is why apothecaries across the curved land are now struggling to find cures for a variety of animal-related diseases, as the people of this particular part of Mephoria fall foul to Giraffe Limping, Antelope Headaches, Panda Rickets and Spider Sneezing.

Some claim that these recent animal inflictions are in fact a punishment sent down by the gods. Many people blame Elisa the Pig-Headed for this. She spent much of her time preaching that the gods had created women and men and then populated the remaining space with animals which provided them not only with something tasty to eat when they all got bored of fruit, but also some a lot of entertainment in the form of zoos, pets, races and hunting. (Cresentuan Scholars are unclear as to whether animals in zoos count as pets. They like to think that they are pets for the entire public, but they do not like the implication that the next time a lion gets sick, they may be partially responsible for footing the bill for the vet.)

The gods have yet to speak out on whether or not Elisa was speaking the truth, but because there are so many people who are interpreting their writings and, like Elisa, generally speaking for them, the chances are they won’t even bother. So the rumours will go unabated that in order to show that they created animals for something more than just the pleasure of humans, the gods are now inflicting said humans with the animal diseases.

They hope, or at least it is claimed they hope, that if a man laughs at a swan, and then two days later goes down with a bad case of Swan Itch, he’ll realise that perhaps he and the swan are equals. It’s hard to feel superior to a bird when you are overcome with an overwhelming urge to run a very deep bath and then spend the next few days with your bottom being the only thing sticking out of the water.

Certain theologians have started to wonder, if this is the case, why it has not worked the other way around. It is hard to prove that humans and animals are equal by giving humans animal diseases and afflictions, if the same thing is not happening in reverse. Where, they want to know, are the lactose intolerant cats? Where are the giraffes with vertigo? Where are the ostriches with Athlete’s Foot? Where are the Invisible Geruffian Hunting Camels? The latter being a general question, and not having much to do with animal ailments, and more simply being something that people really want answered.

The percentage of the population that tend not to believe that the gods have had a great hand in things tend to disagree. (There are no people in Mephoria who do not believe in the gods. Considering how often they make their presence known it would equate to not believing in windows or, more fatally, bear traps.) These people have turned to alchemists for their explanation, and got an equally unsatisfactory answer to those who listened to Miss P. Headed.

The Alchemists have come up with the novel idea that perhaps the viruses are evolving, that they are reshaping themselves to greater adapt to the environment. This raises certain chilling situations, images of viruses actively on the hunt. The day that haemorrhoids can disguise itself as a comfy set of garden furniture is the last day anyone sits comfortably. The day flu can package itself as a sachet of medicinal hot lemon drink is the day the human race will fall. And a headache that learns to take its strength from menthol, well, it just does not bear thinking about.

The people of the Crescent Continent are on the whole not a very happy bunch. On one side, they can believe that the divine beings who lounge around on the clouds and occasionally drop new chocolates down on Mephoria (accidentally, of course, apart from the Giggle Mint, which was just a prank) are punishing humanity for their lack of respect towards the animal kingdom. On the other, the viruses are attacking with a vengeance, covering themselves in tissues, clinging to paracetemol, swimming in cough syrup. Science and religion have both thrown up equally unlikely answers.

Regardless of whether or not the cause can be fully ascertained, this winter in Mephoria looks like it is shaping up to be a suspicious one. Not only are those who believe that the gods are responsible getting ready to clash violently with those who believe the Alchemist’s version of events, but every time a sparrow dies, the nearby villagers will be rushing to put ointment over their noses. Every time a Yak coughs, the rural witches will perform their famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) Spirits Begone Suppository Dance. Every time a bear sneezes, some salmon will undoubtedly shout ‘bless you’, before realising the large tactical mistake they have just made.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

2. The King's Guard: Underused Facilities?

Well it seems the bloodthirsty generals got their way in the end. The rebels, those blacksmiths and tanners and fletchers and organisers of fancy balloons made of animal intestines, tried a peaceful protest, and in some ways succeeded. Sadly the onlookers were distracted, as always, by the extremists, who were obviously of the world view of ‘Well, we pay for all these guards to police us, don’t we? It’s our right to get smacked on the head with a truncheon when we’re being out of order.’ There were plenty of signs reading ‘Down with this sort of thing’ and ‘Stop punishing us for learning.’ There were no warning signs, that suggested things might ‘Roll like a drunken cow’ – that is, to go udders up.

The cynical believe there is no such thing as a peaceful protest; after all, a protest is born out of anger, and only intense anger at that. No one who would describe themselves as ‘a tad miffed’ would ever be moved to go down to the shed with the paints and cardboard and make themselves a sign. Let’s say that a throng of these angry people turn up to protest outside the palace, as happened recently. It is only logical that some of them will show their anger not by chanting ‘We Will Not Be Moved’, but by moving very violently towards the nearest person who looks like they might disagree.

But even aside from present events, or the idea that protests are naturally destined to boil over, the history of Mephoria can stand testament to the fact that sometimes people just like an excuse for a good old fight. The bar room brawl is a good example of this. Every local tavern has been the site of many a battle, whereby one person with a general grievance with another smashes a bottle on their head, and then the couple in the corner of the bar, twenty feet away, stop playing scrabble and inexplicably lay into each other. The woman who just popped in to use the privy gets tackled over the bar, and of course someone is slid down the length of the counter. When the local guards turn up to enforce the law and deflate the situation, they never fail to be completely baffled by the following exchange, which they will have with every participant.

Guards: ‘What on the shiny bonnet of Cheo happened here?’
Random Brawler: ‘We won. We showed ‘em good and proper. That’s the last time they do something like that to us.’
Guards: ‘Why, what did they do to you?’
Randon Brawler: ‘Er… dunno, but it must have been bad. Look how many people lost a tooth.’

These random acts of violence, whilst appearing everywhere, serve only to taint such protests. As is the way when honest people come together to protest in a nice manner – a sign is not too harmful, after all, until the sharp end is jabbed in one’s eye – their collective message is overshadowed by the minute quantity of people who stopped throwing insults before they’d even seen someone who was a member of the opposing side to them. Several of the King’s windows got smashed, and there is now a lot of cowering amongst the populace of Skyth, and even more vocalising of the fact that everyone is very lucky that King Pherron is nothing like his father, King Overly-Keen-With-The-Axe, as he was fondly referred to (mostly by people in the axe sharpening trade, it has to be said).

It is a problem in Mephoria, a land that has suffered many a mass book burning over the simple power of words, that a lot of the time people with an honest message go unheard because someone happens to be standing next to them with a large pike and an intense look in their eyes. These volunteer-mercenaries, as they might well be deemed by the Scholars of the Treetop Libraries, are like water looking for a gorge. They do not care what shape it is, or in which direction it is trying to go, as long as it provides them with a vague way of getting from A to Bloody Well Take This, You Opressive Pig-Type Person.

They would argue that the situation is roughly similar to this: a man chops off your leg and he’s fine, but if you throw your shoe at him (a shoe, they rush to point out, which is now unneeded) that makes you some kind of anarchist. Yes, they say, so perhaps he claimed he was doing it under the guise of necessity. But I’ve never heard of gangrene before, and anyone can go around calling themselves a doctor.

So the generals that so thirsted for a fight got one, and although out of tens of thousands of protestors, only nineteen women, seventeen men and one small pig (whose defiant act of public urination could have simply been a coincidence) were involved in violent acts, the full might of the King’s guard was unleashed, and one thousand heavily armed soldiers careened into the protestors and forced them to abandon their cause. And so it is in Mephoria, in Skyth the Capitol City of the Pherron Realms, that repressed people voicing an innocent protest have been swept aside, and their protests will go unnoticed, not because they did nothing, but because a few of them did too much.


It is not all doom and gloom in Mephoria, however. It was a particularly prosperous day for melons, as the fruit was considered the best, and cheapest, impromptu missile. It was not such a good day for windows, however, as they were mainly what the melons went through.